Alejandro Jodorowsky's 'Endless Poetry' is a surrealist vision of the influential artist's youth.
He's one of Kanye West's greatest influences. He fathered the midnight cult movie genre with acid western El Topo (1970), which brought John Lennon to his knees. Alejandro Jodorowsky is the definition of a multi-hyphenate—the director, screenwriter, playwright, actor, author, poet, producer, composer, musician, comic writer, and spiritual guru moves between mediums as fluidly as his work moves between reality and fiction.
The 87-year-old's latest film, Endless Poetry, spirals from reality to fiction and then back again a thousand times over. Jodorowsky brings a fantastical Chile to life with dwarves, clowns, and his trademark surrealism to tell the true story of his coming of age as a young artist and poet. With the energy of a Fellini film, each scene is more absurd than the next.
Jodorowsky fans will find traces of his best films, The Holy Mountain (1973) and Santa Sangre (1989), in his latest. But Endless Poetry is by far the artist's most personal work, and therefore infinitely more accessible; Jodorowsky brings real emotion into his phantasmagoric reality, where he revels in cinematographer Christopher Doyle's visuals, transporting us to a fun-house world of avant-garde delights.
No Film School caught up with Jodorowsky to discuss why the director quit Hollywood in favor of making movies to lose money, why he only casts unknown or non-actors, and why everyone should look forward to finding their "person."
"I quit Hollywood. I will not make movies to make money. I will make movies to lose money. That is my revolution."
No Film School: What is surrealism's place in the modern world?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: Surrealism is one school of art, no? It's from Futurism and Dadaism. Every day, you experience surrealism when you are sleeping and you have dreams. All the millions and millions of human beings are surrealist because dreams are essentially the unconscious in [a state of] freedom.
The world is rational sometimes and irrational other times. American politics these days are completely surrealistic. You have a surrealistic character [in office]. You don't know what he is or what he will do tomorrow. He could have an atomic bomb in his pocket. He's like a child. We are living a surrealist political moment.
Jodorowsky: I was a surrealist with André Breton. For two years, every day I was participating in exercises and games with the surrealist group. Then I realized surrealism is not exactly like dreams, because dreams have no limit, but surrealism does. Breton didn't like science fiction. He called it pornography. He didn't like music. He didn't like abstract paintings. He didn't like a lot of things.
So, with [Fernando] Arrabal and [Roland] Topor, two beautiful artists of my day, we made a new movement. The Panic Movement went farther than surrealism.
NFS: How does surrealism or the Panic Movement manifest in your movie?
Jodorowsky: In my picture, surrealism is like a dream. I am myself and the characters are my family, my sons. Every place you see in the picture is the real place where the scene happened [in my life]. I traveled to Chile in order to go to the street I was suffering and living on. My father's store, the house in the street I lived on—everything's real.
To cast the main actor, I thought, "You need to believe in this man." I didn't think an actor would give to me reality. I needed someone real. I found a famous poet, Adunis (AKA Ali Ahmad Said Esber), who was cited three times for the Nobel Prize for Syria. I said to him, "Do nothing. Don't act. Be yourself, because you are the character."
I don't search for actors. I don't use stars because you know them already. In my picture, you don't know who is acting in the scene, so you think, "Is the character real?" I am finished with the Hollywood star system.
NFS: You've been very outspoken against Hollywood as a business. You don't see film as an economic-driven industry, correct?
Jodorowsky: Ah, yes, yes. The goal of Hollywood—the real goal—is to make money, and then art. If the people like the art, they will give art. If they like monsters, they'll give them a Frankenstein monster. If they like violence, they'll give violence. If they like sex, they'll give sex. That way, they make a lot of money. That is the movies.
"Even without money, I will make a movie. I always find a person who wants to lose money in order to have a real work of art."
I quit Hollywood. I will not make movies to make money. I will make movies to lose money. That is my revolution. I am not interested in money; I am interested in the work. That is my goal: to make a fantastic artwork, like a painting of Van Gogh or Rembrandt. The first time I showed Endless Poetry was in Paris in the Louvre. I want my movies to have the same quality as a work of art. That's what I am trying to do.
NFS: How do you keep making movies if you're committed to losing money?
Jodorowsky: For The Dance of Reality, I was economizing in order to have a quantity of money to lose making the movie. I found an associate who gave me half of the money, Michel Seydoux. He's very rich. He said, "I want to see what happens with this adventure where you're making things in order to lose money." He was very happy, but after, he said, "One picture is enough."
Even without money, I will make a movie. I always find a person who wants to lose money in order to have a real work of art. Once, I made a GoFundMe. One person gave me close to a million dollars.
I have accounts on Twitter and Facebook with 5 million or more followers. I work 24 hours to be in communication with [fans]. I ask if I need something. People come to help me.
Young people are not idiots. They need fun; they need the industrial movies because they're a lot of fun, but they also need art to give them some new way of living, to show to them life is not ugly. They want other things than drama and war in movies. They want a real spiritual search. They are a lot of young people who want that today. Thousands of them gave me money. Like me, they lost money for the pleasure of creating.
Jodorowsky: On Endless Poetry, 5,000 people helped me make the movie. Production didn't cost too much because some people worked for free. They're working in order to make—
NFS: For art.
Jodorowsky: For art, for humanity. My pictures are very rich without money. When I made El Topo, I had $300,000. With Holy Mountain, I had one million dollars.
NFS: Amazing. What about this movie? What was your budget?
Jodorowsky: $3 million.
"Inside, I am ageless. I will continue making movies until I die."
NFS: That's still very little.
Jodorowsky: Very little. If you are economical, you can do everything. Especially in another country.
NFS: What would you say, in terms of advice, to a young director who wants to make movies to lose money?
Jodorowsky: I have a lot of people who ask me for advice. I say to them, "Don't sell yourself, please. Don't go to Hollywood." But they do it anyway. They make one or two fantastic pictures, and then they lose everything. They go to make a series in television where they are the director, but not an artistic director. You are a worker for a series. You can lose 10 years that way, and when that finish, you are nothing.
Television is not art. If you want to be an artist, be an artist. Lose money.
Money is not God. In God We Trust? In the dollar we trust. Is not that the reality? We have a capitalist civilization. All the suffering we have is because of the fight for the money. It's craziness. We are destroying the planet. Rich people have a lot, and a lot of people have very little. In our society, without money you are nothing.
NFS: You've said age is not a deterrent for you—that it's an illusion. That's also a kind of revolution.
Jodorowsky: Listen, in 11 years, I'll be 100 years old. I am alive and still making movies because of what's inside me. What else am I to do? It's a big, big joy to do what I do. Inside, I am ageless. I will continue making movies until I die. Until my last moment, that's what I will be doing.
NFS: I'm so impressed. I think that's an awesome way to live.
Jodorowsky: In six months, I will be 89. I am starting three movies now. I will finish them all when I am 95, but I will do it.
My wife is 43 years younger than me. Of course, I didn't search for a young woman. It just happened. I was 74, reading Tarot in Santali, and she was there. We were together from the first time we saw each other. It's a miracle, but that's love. Miracles happen when you find your person. I didn't know that until I was 74 years old. My relationships were very difficult, and then one moment, happiness came. I can do everything with her.
NFS: I can't wait to find my person.
Jodorowsky: You will find him because the universe wants you to. It put millions of years into making you. Now, your complimentary person will complete you. This person is searching for you in the same way you are searching for them. In a magical moment, it will happen.